I have found that there is often confusion between essential oils and flower essences. This isn’t surprising – both evoke connotations of fresh smells and flowers. However, it’s important to understand the difference and the use of these products when caring for your dog.
Essential oils are a fundamental part of aromatherapy. They are often diffused in a burner of some sort, such as the traditional one with a tea candle below the area where the oil is placed, or in the newer modern version – ultrasonic diffusers.
When used for massages, the essential oils (which are very strong) are diluted in carrier oil such as sweet almond oil or in a waxier, balm-like base. Most of my human massage therapist colleagues use essential oils in their practices in this way – lavender is very common, for example, for relaxing human clients!
Essential oils are very much for use outside the body (not to be ingested).
Now here’s the thing: I am generally not a fan of using essential oils in dog care.
These oils are quite powerful. And for the same reason that I don’t like chemical sprays for air fresheners and fly control (See: Before you install these devices, consider your dog), I don’t think they are useful with dogs. If dogs have a sense of smell that is 100,000 times more powerful than ours, how can we be sure that we aren’t driving them crazy with the odour of these oils? I don’t believe we can.
Flower essences are a whole other ball game. The most famous of the flower essences is Bach’s Rescue Remedy, which is a blend of flower essences designed to help with stress and anxiety. Dogs can be given Rescue Remedy in times of need – such as fireworks season.
Because of the popularity of Rescue Remedy, many dog owners don’t realise that there are a wide range of flower essences (some of which technically come from trees) which can be used for emotional and other imbalances. Dr Edward Bach, an English doctor and homeopath, originally studied and documented flower essences in the 1930s. For this reason, they are often referred to as Bach Flower Remedies. However, there are other essences such as those that come from Australian wild flowers which cannot be attributed to Dr Bach.
Flower essences are made by infusing the plant material using a heat source (often sunshine) and air into water. The infusion is then preserved with something like brandy and stored – ready for use. Flower essences contain the natural energy of the plant material (not the plant material itself) and we can use these, internally – unlike essential oils – to help with imbalances.
The principle behind flower essences is that they are based on energy and so if your dog doesn’t need that particular energy, nothing will happen. But by matching the right essence to their condition, flower essences can help.
The only thing that ‘smells’ about a flower essence is the alcohol preservative in the mixture. This is a major difference between the essences and essential oils and is key to why I am happy to use them in my practice.
Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand